Ask Sam: 4.21.17
Sam Smith opens his mailbag ahead of the Game 3 of the first round
The Blackhawks lose the first two playoff games at home to the 8th seed, the rebuilding White Sox have a better record than the World Series champion Cubs, and the Bulls beat the number one seed in the East?
Sam: How that’s NBA commercial go: This is why we play. That is why we watch. In a larger sense, that is what is so special about sports and why it has become such a valuable broadcast property. It’s the greatest of reality shows, if that stuff appeals to you. I’ve heard it often does. It’s the most appealing who-dun-it because you never know who is going to make that big play at that big time; the suspense can be excruciating. Where else can you can that intriguing uncertainty? This Bulls team also is a good case study in sports, about the special hope and possibilities that sport provide. Because they all are professional athletes means they are special, and it means some group of them can perform and produce in a short period of time to deny all expectations.
It was easy to dismiss the Bulls all season, to say so cavalierly to “blow it up,” so you could get on with your other teams—or life—and forget about it, avoid the disappointment, the rejection that hurts us so much. Our teams often become our lovers, our loves. But when you give up, whether it’s on life, a relationship for a team or a season, yes it becomes easier and you push aside the potential for hurt and disappointment. But then you also skip the chance for the joy, the special moments, that unique feeling. Fire the coach, trade the players, lose the management, hope the bus gets a flat tire. It doesn’t always happen, and often it doesn’t. And maybe it ends with just these two wins. But look what you would have missed with all your certainty about there’s no way, nowhere to go, you don’t care and you had other things to do. Sport isn’t only about the ultimate result; it really isn’t everything about that because just one team enjoys that. It’s the combined journey shared by the team and fans as they endure all those disappointments and times you want to walk away from. But what is life without those special feelings, thrills and disappointments?
OK, now I see how important it was for the Bulls to make the playoffs. Not only will it be great for their confidence & experience, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss all this fun. We knew that they had a better chance vs. Boston than in the typical 1 vs. 8 matchup. But I sure didn’t expect them to dominate like they did last night (in Game 2). The other big question is (or was) how do you pronounce ‘Rajon’? There are several different answers on the Internet (some of them dead wrong). I found the definitive answer on a site that has 4 clips of Rondo pronouncing it himself. He gets it right every time. It’s Rah-Jahn. Accent first syllable. Not Ray.
Sam: Just two games, but it has been fun. That’s also the point about playing it out. If you don’t play in the playoffs, you never quite understand what it takes, and you also begin to feel a bit like a loser. It doesn’t mean you are, but the emptiest feeling in the NBA is being done in April and seeing this go on for two months. The experience you get sounds phony, but it does carry over. That sort of muscle memory cannot be measured with statistics, so analytics experts don’t much care (yes, that was a shot). But you advance as a basketball player by playing in the playoffs. You regress when you don’t. You always play to succeed. It’s a good habit to develop. Oh, Rah-Jon. And so that’s why I get those looks. Well, he sort of gives everyone looks. He does make it entertaining.
So I am as guilty as anyone to get caught up with this nice start to the playoffs, and I know they may easily lose 4 in a row here, just the way the season has been. However, let's play the hot hand and should we say the Bulls are built for the playoffs, like an anti-Thibs mode? We were used to the Bulls pushing all regular season and not having a next level to go to in the playoffs, although injuries had a play in that as well. Maybe Hoiberg isn't as lost as some people think or the FO actually did an okay job of building a playoff team? It's still amazing to think this Celtics team is a 1 seed but maybe they had a Thibs-like Bulls team in the regular season and just don't scare anybody like the way Lebron was never worried about the Bulls even when they finished ahead of him in the regular season? Either way, it's a fun time and gotta get greedy now and look to the second round. Hope Atlanta can make a tough comeback because the Wizards are looking at an easy road to the ECF the way they usually beat the Bulls.
Sam: Let’s not get too far ahead for as you note this could always turn. We are talking about the 41-41 Bulls, right? We all knew going in and everyone pretty much agreed this wasn’t your typical 1/8, that Boston to their credit played it out seriously, didn’t cheat themselves or the community and tried to build something. Now, of course if they lose, everyone will say they shouldn’t have and should have rested, and see, better to skip 60 games and then be strong. It just meant the Bulls were closer in talent to them than the records and the Boston handled the regular season better. But they should have without any major personnel changes, players settled and comfortable with staff and developing. But they knew they weren’t quite as good as No. 1. Look, the owner said before the playoffs started they weren’t a title contender. When does that ever happen with the No. 1 seed? They also didn’t make any trades despite all the rumors, so they knew waiting for a No. 1 pick instead of adding a veteran wasn’t going to help them now. They clearly declared they were a year or two early and they would play it out.
In some respects they're the No. 1 seed because the Cavs skipped it knowing they could win easily on the road with LeBron, and that may be a curse because then you get measured against that. The history of the NBA obviously favors teams who go for it because 82 games isn’t a fluke. Washington or Toronto could have gotten it also, and while the community wasn’t enamored of the Bulls much of the season, other teams knew it was a team to want to avoid in the first round because of Butler, Wade and Rondo. Isaiah Thomas is to be commended for developing as he has, but he’s an aberration at his size. He’s not a championship team’s leader. I believe that’s why the Celtics never truly entertained any serious trade talk in February. I believe they intend to go for one of those young point guards in the draft and trade Thomas after building his value tremendously.
It’s actually pretty smart if they can pull it off, maybe taking a small step back for a large step forward. But judged daily as teams and people are in sports, it doesn’t look so good down 0-2. Hoiberg, to me, given the ill-fitting parts and 10 new players, has done a fine job all season, and the front office did what was best without giving up the future with big, long term contracts for show. As I’ve mentioned many times, a recovery from breaking up a team, which occurred last June, takes a bit more than five months. But when you are losing and bickering and the media is enamored with others in your community, no one looks good. But will you remember this view if they lose four of the next five? Oh, one more thing. Not so much the built-for-the-regular-season type team, but isn’t it interesting that for the first time in about six years the Bulls have played two playoff games and are about to go into a third with zero injuries (EDIT: Well, until the news of Rondo's injury broke on Friday morning). Yes, guys have gotten hurt, though Wade’s fracture was a freak accident. The Bulls didn’t do that phony rest thing that’s embarrassed the NBA, but they’ve managed their players’ times, treated them well and built physically toward the playoffs. Whatever occurred, you’d have to say this Bulls team was perhaps the best prepared physically for the playoffs in the last decade.
I don't usually watch postgame interviews, but I did after the first game of the playoffs. I found Jimmy Butler's demeanor to be interesting. I would say I was actually entertained by it, but it did not seem like the norm amongst people that were being interviewed. He made his lack of desire for the postgame interview very apparent in a humorous way. I think he openly cheered when the question was for Robin Lopez. So my two questions would be, is this common around the NBA and is this common with Jimmy Butler? I mean, I've seen him be very open to our own reporters in the locker room after games, but this was a new experience for me.
Sam: Jimmy actually is pretty good with media, though it doesn’t appear to be on his favorites list. I don’t know how Wade feels about it, but I haven’t seen many better when it comes to exchanging with media. The podium thing is a bit awkward for everyone given you cannot have a conversation, and some like in Boston make you announce your affiliation. So Jimmy prefers being by his locker. Jimmy has said many times he can be moody, though less so this season with Wade around. But it’s more the weariness of just having played a game—and we know Jimmy plays more of the game than anyone—and then having to sit down and not have a conversation but often try to explain, “So what happened?” Some have more patience for the questions than others. But you should watch the post games. They can be fun, certainly with Popovich, who likes to scare the reporters, and guys like Westbrook, who can’t wait to get out of there and you can see in his fury he really didn’t know what happened in the game. Among the Bulls, Wade is obviously the go to media guy among the three. Jimmy’s second because he finishes more sentences than Rondo does, but if you are good figuring out the implied meaning, Rondo is the best. Lopez answers everything, but stops sentences like someone jumping in front of your car on a side street. Niko is very accommodating, but half the time already is talking to someone in another language. Zipser isn’t quite abrupt, but to the point. Doesn’t elaborate much, though you sense in his eyes he could but isn’t sure we’d all get it. Portis is intense in a likeable way; though maybe it’s just the eyes that get you to feel that way. It’s basically an easy group to deal with, if not quite book worthy.
It really shouldn't depend on a series given what Jimmy and other players have demonstrated thus far in their careers. But if management thinks draft picks can set them up better for the future, it'll be interesting to see what they come up with.
With a few tweqks (2 or even a mere 1 additional impact player), this Bulls team could play spoiler that effects the rest of Lebron's legacy. If they go for a complete hit-the-reset button rebuild like the Lakers or Phoenix suns and get "young, athletic" 20 and 22 year olds, then it could essentially serve as a concession for the rest of Lebron's career. But JJ Barea, Nowitzki and their team can get past Lebron's team (with Wade & Bosh etc), then Jimmy Butler and some outstanding role players can do it too.
There are a number of journalists who a few weeks ago said the Bulls were not a playoff team; if the Bulls win this series will those analysts say this team can contend in the East next year if they add another talented player? Or that they were wrong about the potential of this roster?
One of my main points is that we are living in a society that increasingly seeks to tear people down. A reporter said he could not see how Rondo would be on this Bulls team after the Instagram incident and that Rondo had been a "disaster" from the start.
There are a lot of selective memories out there among those who report. Were Steve Kerr, Brian Williams, Jason Caffey, Kukoc, Beuchler, Bill Wennington all that good or any better than; Zipser, Portis, Mirotic, Felicio, etc?
Sam: They did have Jordan, Pippen and long term stability with the players and staff, so there’s no true comparison. But amidst this nice feeling with the two wins in Boston remains that summer question of what to do. Forget teams, people often change their plans based on the last thing that happened, like a promotion at work after you decided to quit, a raise, a girlfriend or boyfriend says they’ll move in. So teams are no different and despite whatever plans the Bulls may or may not have had what happens this next week and perhaps beyond will factor in. Could so many media people and fans have been so wrong? Seems to me the consensus a month ago outside the team was to hit reset and let’s see 12 new guys; or 11 with Jimmy. You don’t hear that much after just four days? Or not as loudly. A team, unlike media commentators, does not have the luxury of seeing what occurs and then saying, I guess I was wrong, and then running to the front of the parade. Once you commit to draft picks or long term veteran contracts that is your immediate future. Look at Miami with Chris Bosh’s injury, LeBron taking off. You can make a case with the Bulls given the season they had and the age and experience of the roster for picking any number of directions, and at least two and each making sense. That’s why unless the Bulls are in the Finals, nothing much really has changed. It still could be a very interesting summer and interesting to sit back and watch as spectator sport. Plus, it’s not all their choice as Wade has a player option and players like Felicio and Mirotic are free agents. So let’s just enjoy it game to game for now.
Great win last night! Valentine didn't play. I trust the coach but I gotta ask, is it purely based on lack of experience? Also, who gets your vote for rookie of the year? I think someone from Philly will win but I was very impressed with Brogdon from Milwaukee.
Sam: Now Fred isn’t playing enough guys? That is why coaches with teams that aren’t doing well never can get a break. The judgment is after the fact, so if you lost and didn’t play whomever, well, you should have played him. It’s tough to find much fault with how Fred has managed these two games. Because they won. Everyone can’t play in the playoffs and shouldn’t. I understand the appreciation for Embiid, but you cannot get a league award playing less than half the season. I like Brogdon as well. Saric from the 76ers ended up with better numbers. But there’s always tiebreakers in these award things. It’s usually if you aren’t sure you go with the guy on the more successful team. It won’t be the case this year in MVP as Westbrook will win. But that’s usually what occurs with voters. Brogdon played and often started for a good playoff team, which meant he was in more meaningful games. That matters. I actually voted for Jason Williams (White Chocolate) over Vince Carter for rookie of the year once because Williams was contributing so much to a top level team and Carter was, well, dunking. Impressively, for sure. I knew he’d be a better player, but I felt Williams’ contribution was more significant. Carter won, as I recall, 69-3. But they let me keep my vote. Jason never called to say thanks.
I see a little of the Warriors in the Bulls lately.If they continue, it could catch the eye of some free agents!
Sam: Maybe ‘melo wants to come this time.
Is ‘Melo is this generations Tracy McGrady?
Sam: Yes, headed to the Hall of Fame for no good reason.
Please submit my apologies to the team. I was a fan who was already looking ahead to next season. They obviously have bigger plans. Zipser is really establishing himself! He has a big role for us going forward.
Sam: You had plenty of company; I’ll check with the team to see if they accept. Though, remember, 2-0 is just one loss away from being an awfully close series. And the Bulls did get some unexpected contributions. Zipser is a tough one to figure. He’s not a particularly great athlete, but he has a good sense for the game and big time confidence. The Bulls’ flaw, to me, has been just too many players lacking excellent athletic ability. Sure, you should have some, but you cannot keep that many on the floor. It’s another reason the Bulls had little choice but to move on from McDermott. Maybe he does great, though it’s been tough for him to work in with the Thunder so late in the season and Russell shooting most every shot. The problem is you don’t get many great athletes who also can play drafting after the lottery, which is where the Bulls mostly have been. McDermott with his shot was worth a shot; didn’t work, you move on. Playing on the wing in the NBA you face most of the game’s best athletes. Zipser is smart and he’s got good size. Look, as a second round pick thus far he looks like a big time steal. As for regretting giving up the season, good for you. Yes, the Bulls could lose the next four and I’m sure you’ll then wish the Bulls had that half percent chance for the top of the lottery. But you’d have missed this as long as it will go. Let’s not be so quick to give up next time. Unless you’re the 76ers; though if Embiid can make it back and Simmons can get some shooters to play off him, and the 76ers get that Lakers pick, well…Don’t really give up on anyone. I know, you can’t wait for 2017-18.
Westbrook can’t do anymore than he did Wednesday. Has no 2nd option to score. Needs to go out and recruit hard this summer. Even Rose would be good. Can play the 2 with Russ and spell Russ when he needs a breather.
Sam: That would be interesting. I remember a few years back I was lobbying for Monta Ellis (in his prime; not this Monta Ellis) to play with Rose in what would have been sort of what became a Curry/Thompson backcourt. Yes, neither was big, but that trend was coming. You could see that two, dynamic, high scoring guards could be powerful going forward. Ellis was that, and when he was traded to the Bucks he was so highly regarded in Golden State many had preferred it was Curry. There could be issues as both Westbrook and Rose like to have the ball, and the ideal is to have someone like Thompson or Beal to play off. But Portland has two dominant ball scorers who are pretty good. Plus, you can rotate them with other units. I still believe Rose, albeit with a short term deal for health, will attract plenty of interest. As for Russell, I saw McDermott open a lot waving his hands, and he was shooting pretty good. I know Westbrook is great and MVP deserving, but, really, 43 shots! Was that necessary? McDermott was three of four on threes; you can’t get him a few shots? We know Taj is a heck of a mid range shooter. Six shots? That’s the problem with Westbrook. He can get assists, but it’s unnatural. You can see he has to think, ‘OK, I will pass now.” And then looks around to see if someone is open. Which many guys often are with three defenders often trailing him around. He’s tough to play with; it doesn’t mean you can’t win with him. You can. It will take stronger coaching and trust. Maybe no one’s earned it yet, but he doesn’t have it. Still, it’s certainly fun to watch him.
I told a guy at work if we made the playoffs we could win the whole thing. He laughed at me. We are getting so hot right now it's possible.
Sam: I wouldn’t talk much at work anymore if I were you.
The Bulls should now fleece other teams while DWade, Rondo & Butler are at their peak powers! I remember back in the old days you used to do the good potential trades!
Sam: OK, I’ve got one. Bulls trade Rondo and Wade, great veterans perhaps a bit past their primes, for the Nets’ No. 1 picks in 2019 and 2021 and the right to swap in 2025. The Nets obviously need some star power and that’s guys with four championships and now a lead in the playoffs. Hey, it’s a chance to reclaim New York with the Knicks down. After all, when have the Nets ever taken a big chance like that to go for it with star talent? They would be getting the biggest names in the deal. The tabloids would love it. C’mon, how could they not do it?
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